Rathke cleft cysts (RCCs) are sellar lesions that are commonly encountered in adults but infrequently diagnosed in the pediatric population. As a result, the optimal management of pediatric RCCs remains a subject of controversy. Only 2 prior surgical series have been published on pediatric RCCs and no study has compared the presentation and outcomes of surgically versus conservatively managed cases. The authors therefore performed a comparative analysis of pediatric cases of RCC in which patients were treated with surgery or managed in a conservative manner.
All cases involving pediatric patients diagnosed with an RCC at the University of Virginia between 2000 and 2016 were included in this study. Patient medical records, operative notes, and neuroimaging findings were reviewed. Patients who developed visual field deficits, radiographic evidence of chiasmal compression, or medically refractory headaches were considered candidates for surgical intervention. All patients who were selected for surgery underwent an endoscopic endonasal approach with cyst fenestration.
A total of 24 pediatric patients were diagnosed with an RCC over a 16-year period. Seven patients ultimately underwent transsphenoidal cyst fenestration, and 17 were managed conservatively. The patients’ age at diagnosis, cyst size, and pituitary function at the time of RCC diagnosis were similar in the conservatively and surgically managed cohorts. At diagnosis, 19 of 24 patients endorsed headaches that led to neuroimaging. All patients in the surgical cohort endorsed severe headaches at diagnosis compared with 71% in the conservative group. For the 7 patients treated with surgery, complete cyst evacuation was achieved in 86% of cases. Transient postoperative endocrinopathy occurred in 4 (57%) of 7 surgically treated individuals and resolved in all cases. In the conservative cohort, 1 patient developed a delayed pituitary-related endocrinopathy. Headache resolution occurred in 5 (71%) of the 7 patients who underwent surgery and 7 (58%) of the 12 who were treated without surgery. Cyst recurrence was documented in 1 individual in the surgical cohort who underwent a subtotal cyst fenestration that ultimately required re-intervention. In the conservative cohort, spontaneous cyst shrinkage occurred in 35% of patients with a median time to regression of 23.5 months.
Pediatric RCCs are benign sellar lesions that often present with headaches. While cyst fenestration mitigates headaches in most patients, the majority of conservatively managed pediatric patients with RCCs will have spontaneous headache resolution. Furthermore, spontaneous RCC regression occurs in a substantial number of individuals. Thus, in the absence of optic compression, visual field deficit, or diagnostic uncertainty, many pediatric cases of RCC can be managed conservatively.